Are you confused? So was I. For over 30 years of my life I thought I was straight, only to find out I wasn’t when my partner came out as Non Binary Transfeminine. How does that even happen? Most LGBTQIA stories you hear talk about how people knew from a pretty young age that they were different. It may have taken them many years to feel able to come out, but a part of them knew all along that they weren’t cisgender or heterosexual. But that genuinely wasn’t my experience. However looking back on my life now I can see so many ways in which it should have been obvious to me. So I wanted to share with you how I reached this point and what it feels like to be questioning your sexuality in your thirties.
I was 36 before I even realised I might not be straight
I feel like I need to explain how I ended up in this situation. Because if it hadn’t been for Thea, my partner, transitioning from Assigned Male at Birth (AMAB) to Non Binary Transfeminine, I may never have even questioned my own sexuality. After all, I’d been married to her for 10 years at this point, and in a relationship with her for 3 years prior to getting married, so why would I even question this? I was clearly straight, wasn’t I?
But as Thea began to transition and we talked about what that meant for us both, I heard myself saying one day, “I just don’t find women attractive…” and just stopped in horror.
“No, no, no!” I cried. “I don’t mean that. I still find you very attractive. I’m always going to be attracted to you. I love you deeply.”
There was never a doubt in my mind about our relationship and its ability to adapt and change as she does. But what did that mean for me? How could I claim to only be attracted to men, when Thea was no longer a man?
So Thea and I started having lots of very interesting and in depth conversations about sexuality and the vast array of experiences that people within the LGBTQ+ Community have. And I began to realise that some of the things I had always held to be pure facts about myself weren’t actually true. Like how I truly believed I wasn’t attracted to women, and yet I would often think how beautiful the female form is. And how one of the things I had always loved most about Thea was that she was unlike any other guy I had ever met (ha, I wonder why!)
I thought I was straight because I wasn’t gay – the effect of growing up under Section 28
One of the things I have come to realise over this past year is that growing up under Section 28 had a hugely negative impact on me and my whole generation. Section 28 was a British law that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities between 1988 and 2000 (in Scotland) and 2003 (in England and Wales). As a child born in 1984 and attending school between the years of 1989 and 2002, this meant my entire education was devoid of any real discussion of LGBTQ+ identities. I knew about homosexuality, but only thanks to the odd thing I would see or hear without any real context.
So as far as I knew, you were either straight or gay, that was it. And so when I was a teenager and particularly when I went to university and vaguely considered this, I just assumed I was straight. I thought about having sex with another woman, out of interest, but it really didn’t appeal to me. So I thought I was straight. What I failed to do, however, was really think about whether I wanted to have sex with a man. I just assumed I must want that. Because that’s what everyone in a relationship does, right?
Discovering asexuality made so much click into place for me
Have you ever heard of asexuality? I hadn’t until this past year. And yet it makes so much sense to me. But it took me a while to wrap my head around what it actually means, and realise that I am somewhere on the asexuality spectrum. Because when I first heard about it I assumed it didn’t apply to me.
You see, asexuality refers to people (often called Aces) who may experience little to no sexual attraction or desire for sexual intimacy. But this does not mean that they do not engage in or enjoy sex.
It just means that they experience sexual attraction in a different way. And that distinction has been really important for me, because it has helped me make sense of so much about myself.
Let me explain… I always knew I wanted to grow up, get married, and have a family. It’s probably one of the only ways in which I have ever been truly traditional! And yet I was 24 when I first met Thea, who is the only person I have ever been in a relationship with. There was only one other person before her who I could have seen myself potentially being in a relationship with (which obviously never happened), and even that was at 18. I actually remember being pretty darn terrified of the idea of relationships as a teenager – I wanted the cuddly, loving side of a relationship but the idea of kissing and sex? Nope.
I always put this down to being super shy and not feeling attractive in myself, so why would anybody want to be in a relationship with me? But looking back now I can see that this was just a reflection of who I am. When I dreamed of meeting someone one day I wanted to be like an old married couple, enjoying the domesticity of coming home at the end of the day and just cuddling on the sofa watching TV together and then going to bed to fall asleep. I never wanted the excitement and sexual tension that comes with the early parts of a relationship. That sounds far too uncomfortable to me.
How I almost screwed up my relationship with Thea before it even started
Did you know that Thea and I met via online dating? When I graduated from uni and moved into the workforce I realised that if I was ever going to meet someone I could see myself ending up with I had to do something about it. So I signed up for a local online dating site and went on a few dates. Except I refused to call them dates, which my housemate at the time found hilarious. I was just mortified by the whole thing.
And then I met Thea. From the very first moment we met I knew she was different. We just clicked. But I was still scared. When I felt like this could go somewhere, I put the brakes on and told her I wanted to try being friends first. Thankfully she agreed. And several months went by. I’d moved back home from Cambridge to Lincoln at this point, so we’d communicate via email and then meet up for a weekend here or there. And each time we did so, I’d jump out of the car at the end of a trip to the movies before she could possibly think of kissing me. Or I’d avoid holding her hand, despite desperately wanting to, because it might lead to kissing. Did I mention I was nervous about kissing yet?
So when, months later, Thea did first kiss me I completely freaked out. For the entire weekend. So much so that I threw up on the Sunday morning and went to bed, leaving her watching TV with my parents. Poor thing. My dad was convinced I had gone off her and she simply wasn’t getting the message. But she stayed to make sure I was okay when I woke up before going home. And the next day, after I’d calmed down, I texted her to apologise and say I didn’t know why I had reacted that way. And then it happened…
Thea replied, telling me we could go back to just being friends again if I wanted to. That wasn’t what she wanted, but she knew I needed to be comfortable. And my heart sank. That was not what I wanted either. At all. I had fallen hopelessly in love with her, and the idea of going backwards broke my heart. And I knew, right then, without a doubt, that I wanted to be with her. 14 years later I think it’s safe to say I was right! But at the time I simply didn’t have any way to understand what had happened to me. I just assumed I was a bit of a mess to be honest.
A lack of understanding of LGBTQIA identities meant I thought I was straight and a bit weird
Looking back knowing what I do now, I can see that all of this makes perfect sense. But back then? I just thought I was a bit weird. And I thought I was straight. Why wouldn’t I? I had known I wanted a relationship, and I had worked out that I didn’t want sex with another woman and so I must want it with a man. Forget the fact that I totally freaked out when the man I fell in love with first kissed me! I mean we didn’t even get anywhere near the sex part and I lost it. But because of a lack of understanding of LGBTQIA identities I just assumed that I must fit the heterosexual, allosexual model of being human.
And whilst I have always thought I was very privileged to have grown up that way, facing none of the discrimination that those in the LGBTQ+ community face on a daily basis, I do feel a little bit sad at the thought that this had quite an impact on my sense of self-worth. I genuinely thought there was something wrong with me until I met Thea, and consider myself extremely lucky to have met her. Because if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And where I am today is immensely beautiful, despite the challenges we have had to face together over the years. Because that’s the point, we have done it all together.
Which is exactly what we’re doing now with Thea’s transition and my questioning of my sexuality. Neither of us is alone in this, we’re on this journey in complete partnership with each other.
I support Thea in exploring how to express her inner identity outwardly, and Thea supports me by asking me questions that truly make me think and reassuring me whenever I start to question myself rather than the systems in which I grew up and still live in today.
Exploring my sexuality in my 30s is quite a ride
And as much as I wish I had figured this all out sooner, that I hadn’t had to feel so awkward as a teenager and missed out on potential experiences through fear, I’m so glad that I’m exploring it all now. The fact that I thought I was straight for 30-odd years isn’t something I want to feel bad about, because exploring my sexuality now is a pretty joyous ride. I feel so happy every time I read or hear something or even say something and another piece of the puzzle slips into place.
Do I know how I would identity myself yet? I’m not quite sure. I feel as if panromantic asexual describes me pretty darn well right now, but I am still exploring the different facets of asexuality to see if something like demisexual or graysexual might fit me better.
But what I do know now is that romantic feelings are far stronger for me than sexual attraction, and it really doesn’t matter to me what gender a person is.
I fell for Thea when she was still identifying as a man. But she was never like the men my friends were in relationships with, and that’s exactly why I loved her so much. And I love her all the more now she is expressing herself more fully as a Non Binary Transfeminine person. Because she is exactly who she was always meant to be. And that is more beautiful to me than any qualifier or identity could ever be.
So for now I’ll leave it at this – I am cautiously expressing myself as panromantic asexual, with the understanding and complete acceptance that this could change if I discover something that fits me even more closely. But this is a good fit and feels like it truly encapsulates my experience – I can be romantically attracted to a person of any gender, and whilst I can and do enjoy sex, it is far from a driving force in my sense of attraction and something I could easily let go of without really missing. Give me the comfy, cosy, overly domesticated evenings at home, cuddling on the sofa and chatting about life over everything else any time.
If you’d like to hear more…
We discuss Thea’s transition and my questioning of my sexuality in the first two episodes of our podcast, An Unconventional Life, if you would like to hear more about the journey we have been on.
Resources I have found particularly helpful
I thought I would end this post with a list of resources that have helped me in my journey so far.
Websites and Organisations
I highly recommend reading as much LGBTQ+ literature as you can. This has genuinely been the most helpful thing for me this year. I have read LGBTQ+ books almost exclusively this year, both fiction and non-fiction, and they have introduced me to so many new ideas and experiences that have helped me make sense of all of this. Particular favourites have been Sexuality: A Graphic Guide for non-fiction and Autoboyography (review here) and Not Quite Out (review here) for fiction. I am also really looking forward to reading Coming Out Stories, which just arrived today.
I would also highly recommend shopping at Queer Lit. Matthew has created an amazing store with such a wide range of fabulous books, and they are so helpful at recommending books if you’re not sure where to start.
LGBTQ+ Blogs and Social Media Accounts
There are several blogs and social media accounts that have had a massive impact on me over the past few years. In fact many of these opened my eyes to the range of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences before Thea came out, which I attribute with making it such a smooth process for both of us. That’s not to say it hasn’t been challenging at times to adjust to new identities, but on the whole it has been a delightful journey so far.
LesBeMums (also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)
Our Transitional Life (also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)
Queer Little Family (also on Facebook and Instagram)
Jeffrey Marsh (also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)